Everyone is familiar with the vow, “in sickness and in health,” but no one hopes to find out if their marriage will stand the test of chronic illness. Spousal caregiving can be stressful and difficult, placing a strain on your relationship.
If you’re the sick one, you might begin to develop feelings of hopelessness and depression, which can lead to feeling like a burden on your spouse. Of course, if you’re the caregiver you may feel overworked and underappreciated.
Finding ways to deal with the difficult emotions bred from illness is important so that the disease doesn’t spread into your relationship as well.
There are many ways to sustain a strong and lasting relationship, no matter what the circumstance. Keeping the following four things in mind to be aware of when your spouse is ill, and how to make sure they don’t become serious sources of tension in your relationship.
Chronic illness and mental health issues have been consistently linked. Patients with a physical illness are much more likely to develop mental health issues than those without. A study published in the Western Journal of Medicine emphasized the importance of diagnosing and treating depression, especially for the health and benefit of personal relationships.
“Even mild depression may reduce a person’s motivation to gain access to medical care and to follow treatment plans,” read the study. “Depression and hopelessness also undermine the patient’s ability to cope with pain and may exert a corrosive effect on family relationships.”
Avoiding these “corrosive” effects is important for the good of your marriage, as well as for the overall well being of your spouse. Diseases like mesothelioma, a cancer with a long latency and poor prognosis, can be particularly impactful on mental health. Promptly acknowledging that a serious physical illness may lead to mental health complications is the best way to nip this problem in the bud before it takes a toll on your relationship.
It is normal for people to experience feelings of sadness, grief, or anger after a diagnosis, but prolonged emotions of this type may be indicators of depression. Check out the National Institute of Mental Health to see other warning signs.
Bills, Bills, Bills
Money is often the elephant in the room that no one likes to discuss.
Having a chronically ill spouse may mean that the sole breadwinning duties fall on you for a while. Regardless of health, money can always be a source of strain in a marriage
According to CNBC, 35 percent of respondents to a SunTrust Bank study said money was the primary cause of relationship stress and friction.
Upticks in medical bills, as well as any lost revenue from your spouse being out of work, can certainly be stressors. Your spouse may even begin to feel useless and frustrated by their condition, which could lead to feeling like a weight or withdrawing into themselves.
Of course, many people with chronic or serious illnesses are able to lead a normal life, so encouraging your spouse to go back to work when they feel capable is an option.
Another potential source of income, depending on your partner’s disease, is a lawsuit.
Illnesses that come about as a result of negligence on the part of employers, administrators, or other guilty parties can definitely be cause for a suit. In fact, mesothelioma cases have some of the highest payouts of this kind of lawsuit.
Additionally, you can get a little creative with income streams.
Some states and programs allow spousal caregivers to be paid for their efforts. Working from home is becoming a more accessible option too! If either you or your spouse’s job allows for a work from home or telecommute situation, that’s another great way to balance care and income.
Learn to ask for help
While your spouse might be the one with a disease, you’re the one who will have to pick up any slack.
Learning to ask for help is a skill that will serve you well for your entire life, so don’t be afraid to develop it now. Friends and family can be a great resource. Asking for help with rides to and from a doctor’s office, cooking meals, or caring for pets are all fair game. Care, philanthropy, and disease-specific organizations can be useful as well.
For you, the spouse, a different kind of help may be in order. Diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancer have family support groups to surround yourself with people that can empathize with your current struggle. These groups can provide a way to get out of the house without feeling guilty about reserving time for yourself.
Romance and intimacy are often the keys to a strong marriage. It’s vital to not let this aspect of your connection be put on the backburner.
Compartmentalizing your caregiving and spousal duties can be difficult, but is definitely worthwhile. The right level of conversation is a huge component to romance, and striking the correct balance may seem difficult. Mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James’ 19-year long marriage to her husband Cam has thrived on this tenant.
“Communication, communication, communication,” says Von St. James. “I can’t stress enough how important talking things through is. We all have so many fears, and often those fears are the root of so many arguments and hurt feelings.”
For some couples, illness may even cement your relationship.
Seeing yourself and your spouse as a team can be very empowering. However, romance isn’t only about confronting hardship together.
Romance is about maintaining the spark that first brought you together. You should do something together at least once a month that is not sickness related. During these romantic times, make sure to stay away from talk of bills, work, and illness. Creating a bubble of stress-free time to just enjoy your spouse’s company is essential.
“Communication, managing expectations and good old-fashioned love are what get us through,” said Von St. James.
Marriage is difficult to navigate without the added component of sickness.
However, your vows are meant to be everlasting. Figuring out just how to make your relationship function under pressure is a worthwhile and very important conversation to have.
When having these conversations, remember that your spouse didn’t ask to get sick, just like you didn’t ask to jump into a caregiver role. Be understanding and kind, and don’t be afraid to come to your spouse with any issues you may have. After all, they are your partner in life first, and a patient second.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.